The future of search

Google search has become a real pain to use. What was once a stellar product is now a polluted mess. It takes too long to get your answers, requires too many clicks, makes us sort through ads and misleading results, and often leads us to a dead end. It’s the singular fault of Google and how its search engine has been gamed, all because of it being ad-based.

How did Google let this happen? Over the years it found ways to add more ads to the first page of results to increase its revenue, culminating in the first page becoming mostly ads. And because of the enticement of ad revenue, fake sites are constantly being created to game Google search results and show up among the top results.

Look at the difference between Google search when it began and now. The ads were off to the side, separated by a colored background, next to the first page filled with relevant results.

Now the first page of a search is mostly ads trying to steer us away from why we came there. Once you get past the promoted links, the actual results are filled with links to junk content that appear to be something they’re not. That’s especially noticeable when you search for a product or the best of something. Up come articles with product comparisons, not from legitimate sources, but on unrecognized websites full of ads, along with products lists that generate referral fees if they lead to a sale. This is also true if you search for an answer to a problem. Some of the sites that come up stretch out an answer so they can insert more ads.

Google encourages this bad behavior because they profit from it. But Google has lost that balance between serving us valuable search results along with relevant ads. It’s gone from good search results with ads to ads and mostly bad search results.

But there is good news. I’m convinced Google’s current search technology’s days are numbered. A year from now we’ll be searching in a completely different way. Google search will be replaced, either by Google itself or, more likely, by a fresh upstart.

All the components are available today to dramatically improve search. Artificial Intelligence, the primarily enabling component, will be able to understand what we’re looking for, search its database generated from the internet to find the results, and present it to us in a useful format, all with a single click!

Currently we make a request in the Google search bar, such as “what are the best ways to fly between San Diego and Rome on August 15?”. Up comes a lists of links from Kayak, Flight Gorilla, Trip Advisor, Expedia, and more. You then pick one of them that takes you to the site to do your flight search again. In other words, the Google search just takes us to site we already know. The search query doesn’t give us an answer to our question.

It’s the same as with, say, searching for the “best digital mirrorless camera for $2000.” Up comes a page of ads for camera sites and then fake best sites. Unless you click on a site with legitimate reviews, you’ll reach a dead end or get bad advice.

What’s going to replace all this is something that is much simpler and more powerful. In the search bar we will type the same question, but what will return will be the answer are looking for that is presented in a clear and concise way that makes it easy to digest. Perhaps as a written paragraph, or as an internet page with recommendations, supporting articles and charts.

In the case of the best flight query, we might see a complete list of flights ordered by price or duration, with the sorting order and airlines determined by it knowing what’s most important to us from previous searches.

Google and Microsoft know that this is coming and both are heavily invested in AI, with a priority to use it for their search engines. Google’s business is mostly dependent on search, so they have the most to lose and the most to gain once a new search methodology is developed. But I think a new company has the chance to get there faster with a more creative solution. Frankly, Google deserves to be displaced because they drove a once great product into mediocrity, letting greed get in the way of their mission.

Addendum

A few days later after I posted this column, I came across a story in the Wall Street Journal (free gift article) about a new browser for the iPhone called ARC Search that does much of what I described above. Check it out!

by Phil Baker